Feudin’ and Fightin’ Friday: The Lawless Horrell Brothers (From Lampasas, TX to Lincoln, NM and Back)

Horrells and Higgins – Early Lampasas County Settlers

John Holcomb Higgins and his wife Hester migrated to Lampasas County, Texas from Georgia with their young family.  Their son, John Pinkney Calhoun Higgins was their first male child, born on March 28, 1851.  The Higgins family was among the first settlers in the county.  One source indicated that the Higgins family had moved to Texas in 1848, but I believe that is incorrect as John Pinkney was born in Georgia as noted in subsequent censuses – so not sure the exact date they arrived in Lampasas County.

In 1857 a family named Horrell migrated to the county from Arkansas.  According to the 1850 Census, the Horrell family lived in Caddo, Montgomery County, Arkansas and father James (Samuel) was listed as being 30 years of age.  Their children (all males) ranged in age from 11 to infant.  By the 1860 Census the Horrells had moved to Lampasas County. Since 1850 two more sons and a daughter had been born.

According to at least one source, for several years the families lived peacefully as neighbors.  Sometime in the 1870s, however, something changed.  One event that surely devastated the Horrell family was the death of Samuel Horrell.  I found the following story on Ancestry.com:

Traveling east from Las Cruces, New Mexico, the Horrell party was waylaid by Mescalero Apache Indians at the San Augustine Pass, where Samuel Horrell was killed (14 Jan 1869).  It was reported that John’s wife Sarah and Thomas Horrell fought the Indians off with a six-shooter and a rifle.  After fighting off the Indians the Horrell party continued on East to take refuge at the Shedd Ranch.  By March of 1869, Samuel Horrell’s widow, Elizabeth, had returned to Lampasas, Texas.  Elizabeth moved into a house in town near what is now known as the Cloud Warehouse.

According to the Texas Muster Rolls, four of the Horrell brothers had enlisted in a local militia commanded by George E. Haynie.  The brothers Benjamin, Mart and Merritt are listed as joining on September 11, 1872 and service was 17 days, but the final muster date wasn’t until March 10, 1874.  Tom Horrell’s signup date was September 12, 1872 and he served 16 days with the same final muster date as his brothers.

According to one internet source (Legends of America), the brothers’ first run-in with the law occurred in January 1873, but the young men were already known to have been troublemakers.  At this period of time, the county was a wild and woolly place to live.  The Sheriff of the county, Shadick T. Denson, attempted an arrest of two friends of the brothers, but the Horrells intervened and the Sheriff was shot and later died.

horrellsThe county judge appealed to Governor Edmund J. Davis to intervene, and on February 10, 1873 the Governor issued a proclamation which banned small arms in Lampasas.  In March, seven members of the Texas State Police came to enforce the Governor’s proclamation.  On the 19th of March, Bill Bowen, brother-in-law of the Horrell brothers, was arrested for possession of a gun.  According to Legends of America, the law officers entered a saloon with Bowen and a gunfight ensued.  Four officers lay dead.

Horrell War – Lincoln County, New Mexico

Now the Horrell brothers were wanted for murder.  Law enforcement finally arrested Mart Horrell and three others and took them to the jail in Georgetown, Texas, but on May 2 the men escaped from jail after Mart’s brothers and several other cowboys descended on the town and freed them.

The brothers remained around the area for awhile and then headed to Lincoln County, New Mexico, camping on the Rio Ruidoso near present day Hondo.  On December 1, 1873, Ben Horrell and two others rode into Lincoln and begin to carouse and cause trouble.  When the local Constable Juan Martinez demanded their guns be turned over they complied, but soon found replacements and continued on through the town making trouble.

According to Legends of America, one of the men with Ben Horrell (Dave Warner) had a long-standing grudge against Martinez.   When confronted again by the Constable, Warner shot and killed Martinez.  The other lawmen with Martinez shot and killed Warner on the spot, but Ben and the other man, Jack Gylam (himself an ex-Lincoln County Sheriff), fled.  The lawmen pursued the two and when they caught up with them, killed them (Ben 9 times and Gylam 14 times).

Retaliation by the remaining Horrell brothers came swiftly when they killed two Hispanics who were prominent citizens of the area.  On December 20, the brothers returned to Lincoln to continue their vendetta by killing four men and wounding a woman.  Efforts to arrest the Horrells were fruitless and eventually in early 1874 the brothers and their friends made their way back to Texas.  Along the way, they still had some sort of revenge against Hispanics on their agenda.  Deputy Sheriff Joseph Haskins of Pichaco, New Mexico was killed (sources suggest he was killed because he was married to an Hispanic woman).  Approximately fifteen miles west of Roswell, New Mexico the gang killed five other Hispanics.

Horrells vs. Higgins

The Horrells finally arrived back in Texas and in 1876 were tried for the death of State Police Officer Captain Thomas Williams – they were acquitted.  Tensions with the Higgins family, specifically John Pinkney “Pink” Higgins, came to a head.  In May of 1876, Higgins filed a complaint accusing Merritt Horrell of stealing his cattle.  Merritt was tried, but again a Horrell brother was acquitted.  Higgins vowed to settle the matter with a gun.

pink higginsOn January 22, 1877, Pink carried out his threat and killed Merritt Horrell in a Lampasas saloon.  Of course, the other Horrell brothers vowed revenge on Higgins and his brother-in-law, Bob Mitchell and friend Bill Wren.  On March 26, Tom and Mart Horrell were ambushed by the Higgins group but were only wounded.  A warrant was issued for Higgins and friends’ arrest.  They each posted a $10,000 bond and were released.  However, on June 4, the courthouse was burglarized and their records were stolen (coincidence? – I think not!).

Shortly after the break-in, Higgins and friends rode into Lampasas and a gunfight ensued with the Horrells and their friends.  Bob Mitchell’s brother, Frank, lay dead along with two others who were friends of the Horrells.  Subsequently, the Texas Rangers were dispatched to negotiate a cease fire.  By early August, both parties had agreed to stop their feuding.  The next year, however, Tom and Mart Horrell, were suspects in a robbery/murder case of a storekeeper in Bosque County.  They were jailed and later a mob stormed the jail and shot both of them to death.

The one Horrell brother, Samuel, said to be the oldest and most peaceable, eventually moved to Oregon and died there in 1936.  Pink Higgins moved his family to the Spur, Texas area and died there of a heart attack in 1914.

History Bonus: Here’s a PDF file of Pink Higgins’ story found at Find-A-Grave (Pink Higgins ).  He certainly lived an interesting life if this is all true – definitely worth a read.

Discussion Topics:

I thought perhaps the turning point in this story (making trouble in the early 1870s) occurred as a result of their father’s violent death.  Comments or opinions?

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

SupportDH_sm2
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2013.

 

2 Comments

  1. Good story about New Mexico, we had some outlaws in the Aztec area also.

    Reply
    • There are so many New Mexico outlaw stories .. I thought this would be a good series to pursue — feudin’ and fightin’!

      Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Best of Fridays: 2014 Reader Favorites | Diggin' History - […] (82); Feudin’ and Fightin’ Friday:  Fence Cutting War (Don’t Fence Me Out) (82); Feudin’ and Fightin’ Friday:  The Lawless…

Leave a Comment